Distraction as a feature

You don’t need the newest or fastest super-computer or x-gadget to learn a topic (any topic you want to learn, like programming, geography, a new language or anything else). There are tons of options out there to learn, but also to produce stuff, to create contents, to write your own essay, novel or paper.

You don’t need the best gadget to become a great learner. Many times less is more.

And if you do really want to learn, what you really need is focus. And perhaps it is the hardest result to achieve.

There are many factors that can help to improve the learning experience: a quiet environment, a bit of healthy isolation from distractions, a good amount of time to think and reflect about learning topics, an uncluttered space, et cetera.

Sometimes challenging yourself with some artificial constraints could be a good technique to improve the learning experience. You must know that you have the control. You are able to properly shape your learning environment and you are the one in charge of eliminating distraction as a feature.

Nowadays distraction is the norm, paying volatile attention to everything but no comprehensive attention to anything is the usual habit of modern societies.

Modern societies are increasingly vulnerable to environmental impacts and are currently experiencing great changes, thus we are facing new challenges in our daily lives.

Over-connection and loneliness coexist. We are more connected than ever but experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. The ways we communicate have improved but there is a promise and a threat simultaneously in the use (and abuse) of technology.

When you are with a friend it is very common to see how his face and his eyes travel multiple times per minute from the phone’s screen to your face and vice versa, showing little focus or pretending to understand what you are saying, putting more attention to chat messages than to your conversation.

I call this the “faux presence”: To be physically present but almost absent as a person.

“Distraction as a feature” or “Distraction by design” is a sign of our times and many times we accept it silently without offering resistance. Our lifetime -understood as something unprecedented and “miraculous”- is being eroded, worn and consumed by the zillion hits of the distractive hail.

Sculptors made amazing statues with big marble boulders because they followed a path, cultivating their deep thoughts and imagination, and then creating the blueprints and some kind of plan.

But living distracted is the opposite of feeding the deep thoughts. Living distracted is more like a group of sculptor apprentices hitting randomly on a beautiful piece of marble rock and transforming it into millions of pieces of nonsense, making marble into useless pebble.

We live in the multitasking era, but is up to us to allow the multitasking “culture” to enter into every aspect of our lives. It could result like a horde of zombies entering in the machine-room of our lives. Risky, isn’t it?

The “Multitasking Zombies” have a couple of superpowers:

They are always within reach and available (24/7 — always on).
They create the illusion of “I am doing something useful and purposeful”.
They fool the human beings with the fallacy of “I need to do this and also that right now to prevent to be left behind”.
… among other supercharged powers.
So, beware of that. Be careful with that toy if you consider it something harmless.

Non-essential messaging, sounds, colors, animations and jokes: All of them are always out there in our smart phones, tablets, computers, and gadgets. Sometimes it seems like a competition: let’s see which app will disturb us the most.

We’re immediately before Christmas and right now, while I wrote these lines I’m receiving a ton of notifications in my mobile phone that say things like “Merry Christmas! Keep on using our services especially on Christmas Eve. The team of the XXX / YYY / ZZZ app”, so… nothing profound, nothing that increased my knowledge. I’m not wiser after having read those notifications. I’m not a better person after that. But yes, I can confirm that it have indeed affected my concentration and sometimes I found it hard to be in focus again. And I surely lost forever in limbo a couple of ideas.

Those interruptions are complete nonsense. Unnecessary. Arbitrary. Despotic. Prevented me to write a couple of contributions to the human kind (perhaps not very interesting ones, not disruptive at all, perhaps small, or perhaps unique and significant. Who knows?). And this happens all the time, millions of times per minute, billions of times per day, at a planetary scale. And in this way, millions of small pieces of thought, small and imperfect but valuable doses of disruption (imperfect but fresh) are being murdered before being shared with the world.

And the powers or rank we give to these interruptions is something we can definitely decide for ourselves:

I decide this is an intromission, a complete disrespect for my unique and unrepeatable time.
Or I let it enter into my focus bubble and hit on me like a hail storm transforming my sculpture in a hump of pebble with no shape at all.
I think we ought to reflect about this.

Wise men in the past never needed any gadget and noisy notifications to create the most extraordinary works of art ever made.

If we falter and allow their distractive powers tempt us and we fall under their charm, it will be like being hit millions of times by many sculptors at the same time, but without any blueprints, guidelines nor common sense. We’ll be transformed into millions of small nonsense rocks.

I must remember this:

Interruptions are the hell of the learner. Interruptions are the enemy of thoughtfulness.

Constant stimulus makes us eager and distracted. We wait unknowingly for the next notification to come, for the next message, Email or “Like” to come. And that is a useless waiting, nonsense, that is pollution, smog for our freedom to learn.

Merry Christmas!

P.S.: Just to experiment a bit, I wrote this article using FocusWriter (a nice open source “distraction-free word processor”) in my oldie but goldie ASUS Eee PC 1000H Netbook, under GNU/Linux (Ubuntu MATE distro).